Skip to main content
Lightning Class Association
HomeWhy Buy a Lightning

Why Buy a Lightning

The Ultimate One-Design Sailboat
Sean Fidler – USA 14969

The Lightning combines a perfect balance of sail / tuning adjustments with boat / crew size. At only 700 lbs., Lightnings are light enough to trailer and launch easily. They are also small enough to be sailed easily with 3 people. A Lightning planes downwind in moderate breeze, yet it is very solid feeling and controllable upwind. Lightnings can handle a wide range of sailing conditions well. They have the feel of a larger boat upwind, and a smaller boat downwind with an enormous spinnaker (300 sq./ft.).

The Lightning Class is, consistently and by far, the largest multi-crew one design in the world in terms of number of fleets, active class members, and regatta participation. Lightnings are extremely technical and tactical to race due to a hard-chine hull and advanced sail plan. The Lightning class is, very arguably, the strongest level of competition in all of one design racing.  This combination of comfortable size, depth of talent, and a technically challenging design has generated the premier one design racing platform in the World. If you haven't already, check one out!

Why the Lightning?
Allan K. Terhune—Cedar Point, Connecticut and Toms River, New Jersey

In the fall of 2001, I started working in Connecticut and my fiancé (now wife) and I were looking to get a new boat that would be practical for both sailing in Connecticut and New Jersey. We had spent a long time sailing in the Flying Scot class and we decided that we wanted to travel to more regattas and meet some new people and challenges. After talking with Greg Fisher and Brian Hayes (along with their arm twisting), we decided that the Lightning would be a great fit for us, and with the Pan Am Trials and Worlds coming up, there would be plenty of great competition. This was going to be the first time back in a Lightning since my Junior days, and I was really looking forward to it.

My first bit of traveling was to Orlando, Florida to meet Fisk Hayden to pick up our first boat #13970.  He was very enthusiastic and helpful, and I had a sense right then that we were going to meet some great people and have a ton of fun with this boat. I had no idea when I went to Florida to pick it up what I was getting, but when I got there I knew that I had just got a great boat and couldn’t wait to get sailing on it.

Our first two regattas were at my all time favorite place, Monmouth Boat Club. My dad had told me that the Long John was the best regatta, and that he loved it when he sailed Lightnings, a long time ago. We had the best time there, we met so many people and everyone was so willing to help. The sailing there is so great. I know some people hate the huge shifts, the huge holes, and how if someone opens their garage door on the shore side a puff comes onto the course, but it is great. Everyone made us fit in right from the beginning. MBC did a great job with hospitality and the regatta was run to perfection. It was the perfect mix of social and sailing, and it really kicked us off right for the Lightning.

After this we went to Surf City to participate in a Lightning Lab with Greg Fisher. This is one of the best things that the Lightning Class has going for it and people should really take advantage of these. I learned so much from having Greg and Jack both go over boat set up and on the water instruction for the things that really helped to jump start our speed in the boat. This was where it became apparent to me that the Lightning class wanted to get better as sailors and that everyone pushed and helped each other, and it was great.

We went to regatta at Cedar Point then had to take a few weeks off as Katie and I were getting married, and at the same time I came down with Mono, so I was sick for about a month and unable to sail.  We sailed our districts at Cedar Point, which was great, and planned to go to North Cape for the North Americans. At the districts it became apparent to me really fast about how important straight-line speed was in open water.  We learned a lot from Ched, Bill Healy, and Jim Crane about boat speed and it helped raise our game another notch before the NAs.

North Cape hosted a great regatta. It was the perfect venue. There was plenty of boat storage and getting the boats in and out was a breeze. Right from the beginning, we could tell that the regatta was super organized and it made it great for all of us. If there had been no bugs, it would have been the best place I’d ever sailed. We were so fortunate to have met so many people I have only heard about and really got to learn a lot about sailing our boat. I learned so much from this regatta by sailing with so many great people and by meeting so many of the Lightning superstars. We were fortunate enough to win the Thermis Trophy for the first time participant in the Blue Fleet and were really excited at the possibility of sailing in the Pan Am Trials and in the Worlds in Miami.

After the North Americans, we decided with the Pan Am Trials and Worlds up coming, that we wanted a newer boat for ourselves. With the help of Tom Allen, he hooked us up with a great used boat that we have now #14924. We spent a lot of time on this boat before the Pan Am Trials and we really think it helped us a lot.

Before the Trials we sailed in Surf City at the Manahawkin Bay Cup. Jack Elfman and crew set up one of the best all around one day regattas I have ever been to. The sailing venue was awesome, there was great breeze and the hospitality was super. Surf City gave us great food and racing and it was a great time. There were so many people there enjoying one of the last regattas of the year and it was a blast.

The Pan Am Trials was one of the most educational regattas I have ever sailed. I have never sailed in a 13-boat fleet that was so good before. Everyone was so fast and so good that if you made one mistake, you were out of it. Metedeconk and Jim Carson’s team put on a great show, and it was a regatta that the Lightning Class should be proud of.

Looking back on this past year, we really enjoyed the lightning and the benefit of being able to get off "the home lake.”  It was so great to meet all the new people and to go to all the new venues that I have never been to before. I learned more this year sailing than I have in a long time. The Lightning class has something really special going on at every regatta and I would encourage everyone to make it a point to get to as many regattas as possible, and it keep up the tradition of making new people feel as welcome as I felt when we started off. I was amazed by how all of the talented people are so willing to share what they know and to help make the class better. This is what really makes the class keep going on strong and will keep it that way for many generations.

Why the Lightning?
Cully Cobb
(Lightning owner since 1953)

To a man, of course, we partisans must answer, "why on earth not the" Lightning?" isn't it the world's finest sailboat with the biggest, most" prosperous class organization and the most sterling Corinthians among its members? Sure, but let's forgo the sales pitch for a moment and see what an objective look at our self reveals.
The Class is now twenty-six years old* and some of us recall that it has been under attack by competing classes for every one of these years. Not just by the owners and sailors in other classes but by commercial classes and their builder-advocates who have hammered away in the advertising pages of the yachting journals for all these years with almost no published rebuttal. Yet the Lightning has gone on making steady progress. How can anything be so great? Lets look at the positives and the negatives.
The boat was designed by the unquestioned genius of our generation, Olin Stephens, with no special goal except to provide an all-purpose racing knockabout blending comfort, speed, ease of construction for the amateur, economy, and a size large enough to give the feel of a small yacht, not too big for easy trailering. This is what the boat was in 1939 and, after decades of furious debate, friendships made and broken over issues major and infinitesimal, this is what it is today. It is not the fastest small boat or the cheapest. But is there even now a better? Is there another boat of its size, displacement, and sail area that can beat it?

Is there even a boat near its size sporting such things as a deck, seats, floorboards that can?

Look at the challengers and you will find boats that scoop water when they heel, boats that have slippery slanted wet bottoms and no elevated floorboards, boats without seats, boats with no skeg which weave and wallow under tow, boats so lightly built that they come apart after a season or two of hard use, boats which quickly turn turtle, or worse yet, sink when they capsize. Or in the other direction you will find boats that are stiff and safe but painfully sluggish or poorly balanced and insensitive.

It was indeed a good design. By intent, and yet somewhat fortuitously to judge from the reported misgivings at Sparkman and Stephens when they realized the success of their brainchild after it had been turned over, no strings, to the class organization.

The boat is a normal sailor with no bad characteristics. It has perfect balance, an easy entry, and a clean run. It does not drag the transom if an extra passenger or two come aboard. It does not submarine before the wind or broach in a gibe. It rounds up in a puff, carries its sails in a blow, yet slips along easily in a calm. Your hand is not glued to the tiller for fear of an instant luff. It is rigged and operated much the same as larger boats and is widely known as a crew trainer. But there is more to the boat than its sailing characteristics. Its size and stability tend to bring more and more people into the Class.

Success in racing is not confined to the very young, very strong, very heavy or to the very rich. Being nobody's monopoly, the Lightning has always been popular among the keenest of the boatbuilders and sailmakers.


These are the so-called professionals who in fact differ from the rest of us only in being blithe spirits who refuse to take up an occupation but try to make a living from their hobby! They are sharp, charming, tough on the race course, quick with a helping hand and slow to protest! You cannot beat them often but what a thrill when you do! A class without them must be dull indeed. The presence of these plus an ever growing pride of man eating amateurs has made the racing marvelously competitive. Among our contenders are established champions from most of the other classes. That they come or return to the Lightning wars proves their love of fair racing. No doubt there are still other class champions too timorous to switch! There have been some whose expertise, so apparent in lesser classes, left them in midfleet in the Lightnings. This can wound the tender ego and sometimes lead to carping and nit-picking.

What does the future hold for the Lightning? Are we about to be out-designed or out-dated? Should we switch from this most catholic yacht to a more Olympian perhaps? It is well to recall that racing machines and specialized craft are nothing new. Of note was the smashing success of the ancient International Decked Canoe in the recent trials for a new Olympic monotype over the best and most radical of the newest super-dinghies. The Lightning never has been all things to all men. But is there anything in view to suggest it will not continue to mean more things to more men, women, boys, girls, and the occasional ship's cat or dog?

Reflections from a Lightning Virgin
Bill Dutcher—#14958, Scallywag

Was it going to be pain or pleasure? If you're contemplating joining this class, you might wonder, too. I did, when I bought a good, used Lightning about a year ago.

In a class with hundreds of sailors with decades of experience, my first season has been a pleasant revelation. It was just as tough, fair and fun as I'd hoped.

Club competition was full of support and laughter, and nary a protest that I recall. Top level NAs competition was similar, plus a more squinty-eyed focus. Yet even there, protests were rare.

Sparkman & Stephens certainly got it right with the design and the class setup, because here's a classic, durable boat which provides a very level playing field for crews of varied weights. At the 2001 NAs, there were wins by 430# crew combos, and 530# ones; new boats and older ones. It became clear to me that good racing judgment and an understanding of how to tune one's boat for varying conditions, were the real keys to victory; not crew weight, boat vintage, or cubic money.

The rigs are very adjustable, accommodating wide wind strengths. Setup time when trailering is less than 20 minutes (although some "vets" seem to do it in half that.)

In our first season, we experienced winds from drifters up to 35kts. We practiced & improved our roll tacks and jibes. Although we didn't exactly set forth to practice it, we were delighted to find out that the boat is easily righted when broached.

While it can be sailed recreationally with just the main up (with the centerboard partly up to neatly balance), it can also be swiftly planed, hiking in clouds of spray with the big spinnaker. It even looks good. Who could ask for more?

"You only get one time to make a first impression." For me, Lightnings and the ILCA made a great one!

Do you have a tale to tell?  Please send to
Sponsor Number URL address
Sponsor 1
Sponsor 2
Sponsor 3
Sponsor 4
Sponsor 5
Sponsor 6
Sponsor 7
Sponsor 8
Sponsor 9
Sponsor 10

Lightning Class Supporters